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This year for the holidays, we decided to eschew big gifts and take a big family trip to New York City instead. At our monthly family meeting before the holidays, we had talked about our expectations. We asked the kids what they remembered from last year, what their favorite presents had been, etc. Pretty quickly, we realized that their memories had more to do with the Christmas stories we read by the fire than the gifts they had received. We took a family vote and decided that taking a trip would be much preferred to a bevy of forgettable gifts under the tree. New York City won the popular vote as the destination for our holiday vacation!

The kids were tasked with researching places or experiences they wanted to have and we set off to NYC with a loose itinerary. After years of blended family travel, we have learned that flexibility and spontaneity are always key to any of our vacation experiences. There are bound to be unexpected hurdles (low blood sugars at exactly the wrong time), and we wanted to make sure we left plenty of time on the itinerary to follow the kids’ interests.

Museums, a show, restaurants, shopping, landmarks, and tourist attractions were just a few of the things we were able pack into our 5 day NYC trip.

I’ve compiled a list of our favorite New York City experiences along with some helpful links to help you plan your New York City family vacation!

1. Take a train in the city. Some say it isn’t really a New York experience if you don’t take the subway. I agree! Take advantage of the 472 stations serving 27 subway lines the the city offers to get to your destinations. Free subway maps are available at the subway stations. The kids had so much fun people watching and running through the stations to catch our trains.

2. Take in a Broadway or Off-Broadway show. Don’t miss a chance to see first rate theatre in the Big Apple. There are so many options for family-friendly shows and the experiences are unforgettable. We have a group of Harry Potter fans in the bunch, so we took in Puffs, a Potter-inspired comedy, from the front row at the New World Stages. For discount tickets to NYC shows, visit one of the TKTS  booth locations at Times Square, South Street Seaport or Lincoln Center.

3. Visit Times Square. For kids to truly understand why NYC is called the City That Never Sleeps, take a walk through magical Times Square in the evening. The kids were enthralled by all of the screens, the lights and the activity surrounding the area. They were even able to see themselves displayed on one of the giant screens thanks to a street camera. Since we visited during the holidays, they wrote wishes on strips of confetti that were released on New Year’s Eve as the ball dropped.

4. Tour the 9/11 Memorial & Museum. Sitting within the footprints of the Twin Towers are the 911 Memorial’s twin reflecting pools which are nearly an acre in size.  They feature the largest man-made waterfalls in North America and the names of every person who died are inscribed around the perimeter. To say that this memorial invokes powerful emotions is an understatement. Don’t miss the “Survivor Tree” which endured the terror attacks.

The 9/11 Museum hosts some of the most powerful images and stories of the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001. The stories of loss and recovery and the impact of this event on the country and the world are told within the walls of the museum. The material may be difficult to experience for younger eyes, but the older kids named this experience one of the best highlights of our trip.

5. Have a Frozen Hot Chocolate at Serendipity 3-This legendary NYC restaurant is the perfect place for a mid-afternoon break while you’re sightseeing. Decadent sundaes and frozen hot chocolates have a way of helping the kids power through a long day of walking. I loved knowing that Grace Kelly and Cary Grant had enjoyed time at Serendipity. The kids were more impressed that Beyoncé had been a patron. Be sure to make reservations if you can- the lines can get very long.

6. Enjoy Central Park-America’s first major landscaped public park offers an abundance of tours and activities for all. From playgrounds, to boat rides, to a carousel, to theatre and a zoo, kids will be entertained for days. Just strolling through the beautiful paths and resting on park benches on a fair weathered day offered great memories.

7. Take advantage of discounts with CityPass– The city has so much to offer in terms of attractions that we were a bit overwhelmed by the choices. Make it easy on yourself and purchase a CityPass which offers discounted admissions to New York City’s top attractions. Visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, the 9/11 Museum and others for less. For our blended family, the CityPass was not only a money saver, but a  time saver as well. Some of the venues let you skip the lines if you are a CityPass holder!

Our time in New York City was magical. Creating new memories together is so important for blended families and we are grateful to have had this special trip together. They may have forgotten about the Fingerlings two weeks after Christmas last year, but I’m pretty sure the impact of this trip will last a lifetime.

For pictures from our trip and our many other life adventures, be sure to follow us on Instagram.